There is a saying in the NFL that the biggest jump in development for young players is from Year 1 to Year 2. Players have some experience under their belt. They develop a bit of comfort in terms of their surroundings (living on their own, having money, living in an unfamiliar city,etc.). The players have been coached on what they need to do to improve. They also have access to an NFL weight room and strength coach.
The offseason heading into Year 2 is a critcal time for these players. If they work hard, work smart, and stay focused, the players can make a tremendous jump. Donovan McNabb was an athlete in 1999 and a QB in 2000. LeSean McCoy was a solid rookie in 2009, but looked much better in 2010. Todd Herremans was a backup/spot starter in 2005 and then a good starting OG in 2006. Trent Cole showed some good things as a rookie in 2005, but the Eagles still went out in free agency and signed Darren Howard. Jevon Kearse was going to be the LDE. Howard and Cole would battle for the RDE spot. Cole won and has been the RDE ever since.
The draft class of 2010 did not have the benefit of a normal offseason last year. And that draft class has quite a few question marks:
1st Round – DE Brandon Graham – Michigan
2nd Round – FS Nate Allen – USF
4th Round – LB Keenan Clayton – Oklahoma
4th Round – QB Mike Kafka – Northwestern
4th Round – TE Clay Harbor – Missouri State
5th Round – WR Riley Cooper – Florida
7th Round – LB Jamar Chaney – Mississippi State
7th Round – SS Kurt Coleman – Ohio State
4th Round – CB Trevard Lindley – Kentucky
I split the players above into 3 groups. Graham and Allen just need to stay healthy. Each guy has shown good NFL ability when 100 percent. A full offseason would not have meant as much to them.
At the bottom I have Lindley. He simply got lost in the shuffle last year as the Eagles upgraded the CBs. Lindley failed to stand out in the summer and got cut. A full offseason would have helped him, but would not have necessarily made a significant difference.
The middle group are the players who really could have used the full offseason. Each player listed there has the potential to be a starter in the NFL. Each player also has some issue (or issues) that holds him back.
Rather than put a line or two about each player, I’ll cover one guy at a time. First up, Keenan Clayton. Let’s go back to some key numbers of his from prior to the draft.
Key stats: 2009 – 46 solo tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 INTs, 2 FFs, 5 PDs
Clayton was drafted as a role player and STer that the team hoped would develop and push for the WLB spot. He had good cover skills coming out of Oklahoma and had the build/ability to be very good on STs. Sean McDermott liked him enough to get creative with Clayton in some gameplans against good opponents (IND, GB). Clayton showed very good potential in those games.
Unfortunately Clayton hasn’t taken the next step. He is a gifted athlete that coaches would love to play more. The problem is that he’s not a functional run defender at this point. He must get in the weight room and get bigger and stronger. Clayton then needs a lot of work this spring and summer on how to take on blockers and shed blocks. He has shown that he can play in the Nickel defense. He has shown that he can play on STs. The question is if he can play in the base defense. Clayton hasn’t come close to pushing for time in the base D in his first 2 years.
Clayton finished 2010 well and then did the same thing in 2011. Now he needs to play well for a whole season. He needs to show the coaches he will contribute starting in the preseason. There are now a lot of bodies at LB. Clayton isn’t guaranteed a roster spot. He must earn that.
There is a distinct possibility that Clayton is listed as the #3 WLB right now. That should spark a sense of urgency in him. Again, there is no question of talent. Clayton runs very well. He can cover very well. Good tackler. Solid hitter. While the NFL is a passing league, LBs must be able to play the run. More and more teams are lining up in spread sets and then running the football. The goal is to get the defense in a Nickel look. That takes a LB off the field and replaces him with a CB. It also gets the defense to go from base players to specialty guys.
Clayton has to show the coaches that he can be a reliable run defender, even in the Nickel. That means the ability to tackle RBs on inside runs. That means taking on OGs that come up to the 2nd level. It means shedding blocks and getting after the runner. Clayton really needs a strong summer. He has played in the Nickel each of the last 2 years (at times), but now will compete with Kendricks, Matthews, Chaney, and Rolle for one spot. DeMeco Ryans will have the other spot.
It will be interesting to see if Clayton can put it all together and become a key role player and STer or if he is one of those guys who will just tease us with his talent and then fade away. One key point on Clayton…he doesn’t have to become a starter in order to be considered a successful pick. If he can become a good role player and key STer, that’s just fine for a 4th round pick.
* * * * *
I haven’t had a chance to watch the full video, but our old buddy BountyBowl posted a link on Twitter to an episode of NFL Game of the Week from 1986…PHI at CHI. I’ll be watching the full thing in a while. That was a really good game.
* * * * *
In case you missed this, here is a video of 5-9 Brandon Boykin winning a dunk contest back in his high school days. Impressive athlete.